Before it's too late

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There is always someone in the family that knows everything, who recognises every face in every old picture, who could tell you where they were taken and what the occasion was, who could narrate an old family film to within an inch of its life.

In my family, that person was my Great Auntie Jo.

I had some amazing experiences around old family and local stories with my Gran before she died a few years ago. Not enough, but they were important for us – a chance to understand each other’s lives a bit better, to compare stuff, laugh a lot and find out some secrets that weren’t for full family viewing.

A few weeks ago, I spoke on the phone to my Auntie Jo, a wonderful woman of well over 90, to say that I wanted to come and spend some time with her to talk through all the photos and videos of family, friends and the farming communities our family has always been part of. She was excited. We hadn’t seen each other for ages and she loved the idea of sharing boxes of old materials and a head full of memories. Like me, Jo wasn’t that interested in family trees. But, also like me, she loved a good story and every one of the things she had collected came with a story or two.

Earlier this week, Jo had a fall and died in hospital soon afterwards. I had never made my trip. Busy lives got in the way, seemingly more important things took priority.

As a family, losing Jo has been very hard. For me, it comes with some extra sadness. I never got that time with her and she never had it with me. Tragically, those boxes and boxes and photos will mostly only ever be pictures, rather than stories – Jo was the last person in the world that could tell you about lots of them.

For me, for my family, for our communities and our society, we lost the chance to understand more about ourselves through Jo’s memories, to feel more connected to places and people.

This is a loss that happens every day, hundreds of times over. Memories slip out of reach and are lost forever.

Historypin began with lots of positive experiences that inspired me and other members of that initial team to put something into the world that could multiply and aggregate those experience. This painful experience, of something urgent not done soon enough, can be put to equally good use I hope.